“JANE EYRE” (1997) Review

“JANE EYRE” (1997) Review

There have been many adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. And I do not exaggerate. If I must be honest, I really have no idea of the number of adaptations made. I have seen at least six of them – including his 1997 television movie that aired on the A&E Channel in the U.S. and on ITV in Great Britain. 

Directed by Robert Young, and starring Samantha Morton as the titled character and Ciarán Hinds as Edward Rochester;“JANE EYRE” told the story of a young and impoverished English woman forced to become a teacher at a girls’ school in early Victorian England. Bored and dissatisfied with working at Lowood – the very school where she had also spent six years as a student, Jane Eyre places an advertisement that offers herself as a governess in a private household. A Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall responds to the advertisement and hires Jane. Upon her arrival, Jane discovers that Mrs. Fairfax is Thornfield Hall’s housekeeper and that her new student is Adèle Varens, the French-born ward of the estate’s owner, Edward Rochester. It is not long before Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester and being drawn to a mystery surrounding him and a maleficent presence at Thornfield Hall.

Judging from the movie’s 108 minute running time, one could easily see that Richard Hawley’s screenplay had cut a great deal from Brontë’s original novel. Jane’s time at Lowood seemed rushed. Her disappointing reunion with the Reeds was completely cut out. And her time spent with St. John and Diana Rivers was censored heavily. The screenplay even failed to point out Jane’s family connections with the Rivers family and her small financial inheritance. Most of the cuts were made to fit the movie’s short running time and emphasize Jane’s relationship with Rochester. Did it work? That is a good question.

I did have some problems with this production. One hundred and eight minutes struck me as a rather short running time for an adaptation of a literary classic. Hollywood could have gotten away with such a running time during its Golden Age, but I am not so certain that it would have been able to do so, today. The movie’s limited running time was certainly apparent in its failure to depict adult Jane’s reunion with her Reed cousins. Her negative childhood in the family’s household had played an important part in Jane’s formative years. I found it ironic that Hawley’s script was willing to convey Jane’s unhappy childhood with the Reeds, but not follow up with her return to their home in the wake of a family tragedy.

This version also excluded Rochester’s barely veiled contempt toward young Adele, his ward and the daughter of his former mistress. Considering Rochester’s paternalistic attitudes and occasional sexism – conveyed in his penchant for blaming Adele for her mother’s perfidy – by ignoring his hostile attitude toward his ward, Hawley seemed to have robbed some of the landowner’s original character in order to make him more palatable. I could also say the same for Hawley and director Young’s decision to remove the incident involving Jane’s encounter with Rochester disguised as a gypsy woman. And a great deal of Jane’s stay with St. John and Diana Rivers was also deleted from this version. One, it robbed the production of an interesting peek into the St. John Rivers character. Although not a favorite of mine, I have always found him interesting. The brief focus on the Rivers sequence made the movie’s pacing within the last half hour seem rather rushed.

But Hawley’s script and Young’s direction more than made up for these shortcomings in the movie’s portrayal of Jane and Rochester’s relationship. I must admit that I found the development of their relationship fascinating to watch. I especially enjoyed how Jane managed to hold her own against Rochester’s persistent attempts to inflict his will upon her . . . earning his love and respect in the process. And in turn, Rochester manages to earn Jane’s respect and love with his intelligence, wit and gradual recognition of her virtues.

The most fascinating sequence in the entire movie was not, surprising, Rochester’s revelation of his insane wife, Bertha. Mind you, I did find that particular scene rather interesting. For me, the most fascinating scene turned out to be Rochester’s attempt to prevent Jane from leaving Thornfield Hall. He used every emotional response possible – passionate pleadings, contempt, desperation, anger and declarations of love – to get her to stay. He even suggested that she become his mistress and travel to the Continent with him in order for them to stay together. What I found amazing about his actions was his lack of remorse or regret for attempting to draw Jane into a bigamous marriage or make her his mistress. But what I found equally amazing was the fact that Jane’s love for him did not die, despite his words and actions. More importantly, she showed amazing strength by resisting him and his promises of an illicit relationship.

Aside from the movie’s writing and direction, the performances of Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds really drove the above mentioned scene. They were simply superb. To be honest, they gave first-rate performances throughout the entire movie. I have yet to see Ruth Wilson’s performance as Jane Eyre. But I must admit that I believe Samantha Morton gave one of the two best portrayals of the character – the other came from Zeulah Clarke in the 1983 adaptation. Morton was barely 19 or 20 when she made this film. And yet, she infused a great deal of subtle strength, warmth and passion into the role. Not only did she managed to create a strong chemistry with her leading man, but also hold her own against him, considering that he happened to be at least 24 years older than her. As for Ciarán Hinds, he also gave a first-rate performance. Mind you, there were moments when Hinds chewed the scenery . . . excessively. Perhaps that came from a theatrical style he had failed to shed for motion pictures around that time. But he did capture all aspects of Edward Rochester’s emotional make-up – both good and bad. I would not go as far to say that Ciarán Hinds was my favorite Edward Rochester. But I must admit that I found him to be a memorable one.

This movie also had the good luck to possess a solid supporting cast. However, I only found myself impressed by only a few. One of those few happened to be Timia Bertome, who portrayed young Adele. She did a very good job in not only capturing her character’s self-absorbed nature, but also Adele’s sunny disposition. Rupert Penry-Jones turned out to be a very interesting St. John Rivers. In fact, I would not hesitate to add that Penry-Jones effectively gave a new twist on the character by portraying him as a superficially friendly soul, but one who still remained arrogant, sanctimonious and pushy. It seemed a pity that the actor was never given a chance to delve even further into St. John’s character. Screenwriter Richard Hawley gave a subtle, yet effective performance as Rochester’s brother-in-law, Richard Mason. And Sophie Reissner is the first actress to make me sympathize over the plight of Rochester’s mad West Indian wife, Bertha Mason Rochester. Abigail Cruttenden not only effectively portrayed the beautiful, yet vain Blanche Ingram; but also managed to inject some intelligence into the role. But my favorite supporting performance came from Gemma Jones, who portrayed Thornfield Hall’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. Superficially, she portrayed the housekeeper as a cheerful soul that kept the Rochester household running efficiently. Yet, she also conveyed Mrs. Fairfax’s anxiety and doubt over Jane’s blooming romance with Mr. Rochester and the presence in the manor’s attic with great subtlety. Jones gave the third best performance in them movie, following Morton and Hinds.

For a movie with such a short running time, I must admit that I found its production values very admirable. Cinematographer John McGlashan did an excellent job in injecting a great deal of atmosphere into his shots without allowing the movie to look too gloomy. However, I did have a problem with that slow-motion shot that featured Edward Rochester’s introduction. It seemed out of place and a bit ridiculous. Also, production designer Stephen Fineren and art director John Hill managed to maintain the movie’s atmosphere and setting. I found Susannah Buxton’s costumes surprisingly enjoyable. The costumes perfectly captured the 1830s in the film’s sequences featuring Jane’s childhood with the Reeds and at Lowood School and also the 1840s in which the rest of the movie was set. I especially have to congratulate Buxton for limiting the Jane Eyre character to only a few costumes, which seemed fitting for the character’s social and economic situation.

This version of ”JANE EYRE” was not perfect. I found its 108 minute running time too short for its story. And because of its limited running time, Richard Hawley’s script deleted or shortened certain scenes that I believe were essential to the story and the leading character. But I must admit that despite these shortcomings, I found this adaptation to be first-rate thanks to the focus upon the Jane Eyre/Edward Rochester relationship; a production design that reeked of early Victorian England and an excellent cast led by the superb Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds.

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode One) Commentary

“THE PACIFIC” (Episode One) Commentary

March 2010 saw the premiere of the 10-part miniseries, “THE PACIFIC”; which is produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman.

The miniseries focuses upon the lives and experiences of three U.S. Marines who fought in the Pacific Theater – writer Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), war hero John Basilone (Jon Seda) and professor/writer Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazello).

This first episode featured the three men’s reaction to the attack upon Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Basilone is already a one-year veteran of the Marines around this time, as he says good-bye to his family. Leckie joins the Marines about a month after the Hawaii attack and forms a friendship with a local girl named Vera before saying good-bye to his father. And Sledge is forced to realize that his heart murmur will prevent him from joining the Marines with his friend and neighbor, Sid Phillips (Ashton Holmes). Not long after this opening, both Leckie and Basilone find themselves being shipped out to deal with the Japanese threat on Guadalcanal. Most of the episode focuses upon Leckie and Phillips’ early experiences on Guadalcanal. By the end of the episode, Basilone and the 5th Marines regiment have arrived.

If there is one thing I can say, “THE PACIFIC” is definitely different from 2001’s “BAND OF BROTHERS”. But I guess I expected it to be. One thing, this episode made it clear that there will be scenes featuring the three characters’ experiences on the home front and amongst other civilians. That scene between Leckie saying good-bye to his father at the bus depot was very interesting – especially with the writer dealing with his father’s reluctance to say good-bye. And it was interesting to watch Sledge deal with his frustration at being unable to join up, due to his heart murmur. I found myself wondering if he had any idea what he would experience during the war’s later years, would he be so frustrated.

The main difference between “THE PACIFIC” and “BAND OF BROTHERS” is that the latter was mainly a retelling of the experience of an Army company, with an officer as the series’ main character. I think that “THE PACIFIC” is being presented in a way that is similar to the 2000 movie, “TRAFFIC” or the 2005 movie, “CRASH” . . . in which the same topic is presented from different perspectives. In this case, the miniseries is from the viewpoints of three men who DID NOT serve in combat together. And yet, there are connections between them. Leckie served in the same Marine company as Sledge’s best friend, Phillips. Both Leckie and Basilone fought on Guadalcanal and have a brief encounter with one another at the end of Episode One. And later, we will see both Leckie and Sledge fight in another campaign together – Peleliu. I only hope that many people will understand and learn to accept the fact that “THE PACIFIC” has a different style of storytelling than“BAND OF BROTHERS”.

By the way, I want to say a few last things. I must say that the action in this episode was amazing, along with the jungle setting. And the birthday tune that Leckie and the other Marines sang to Phillips was not only funny, but had an ominous aura as well. Well done. Well done.

“THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” (2005) Review

“THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” (2005) Review

Although considered one of her most famous novels, 1934’s ”Murder on the Orient Express” was not the first of Christie’s novels that featured a famous luxury train as a setting. The year 1928 saw the publication of another novel called ”The Mystery of the Blue Train”, which told the story of a brutal murder aboard the famous Blue Train. 

This story had its origins in Christie’s 1922 novella, ”The Plymouth Express”, which told the story of the murder of an Australian heiress. Christie took that story and expanded it into a full-length novel, ”The Mystery of the Blue Train”. The television series,”Agatha Christie’s POIROT” aired ”THE PLYMOUTH EXPRESS”, an adaptation of the novella, in 1991. And fourteen years later, aired its own version of ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE”. Actor David Suchet portrayed Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot in both productions.

The Blue Train referred to in this story was not the luxury train that traveled through Southern Africa. Known as Le Train Bleu or theCalais-Mediterranée Expres, this Blue Train was a luxury French night train that conveyed, ealthy and famous passengers between Calais and the French Riviera from 1922 until 1938, usually during the winter seasons. Unlike Christie’s novella, ”THE PLYMOUTH EXPRESS”, the case featured in ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” centered on the murder of an American heiress named Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, aboard the Calais-to-French Riviera luxury train, the Blue Train – otherwise known as Le Train Bleu. One of Ruth’s possessions ended up missing, namely a famous ruby called the Heart of Fire, recently purchased by her father, American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin. The suspects accused of killing her and stealing the Heart of Fire were:

*Katherine Grey – a young Englishwoman who became wealthy through a recent inheritance; and whose father had been financially ruined by Van Aldin

*Derek Kettering – Ruth’s estranged and financially strapped husband, who came from an aristocratic family

*the Comte de la Roche – Ruth’s lover and a fake aristocrat who happened to be a con man and thief

*Ada Mason – Ruth’s maid, who disappeared during the Blue Train’s stop in Paris

* Mirelle Milesi – an exotic French courtesan, who was seen entering Ruth’s compartment aboard the train

*Major Richard Knighton –Van Aldin’s private secretary, who happens to be in love with Katherine

*Lady Tamplin – a financially strapped aristocrat living on the Riviera with her daughter and young husband; and who is Katherine Grey’s distant cousin

*Lennox Tamplin – Lady Tamplin’s daughter

*’Corky’ Evans – Lady Tamplin’s young husband

*the Maquis – a famous jewel thief

Belgian-born detective, Hercule Poirot found himself aboard the same train heading toward Nice for a winter vacation. The one passenger he managed to befriend was Katherine Grey, who had switched compartments with Ruth Kettering after meeting the latter. Overwrought by his daughter’s death, Van Aldin hired Poirot to find her killer.

I became a major fan of ”The Mystery of the Blue Train” not long after I first read the 1928 novel, years ago. The mystery struck me as slightly intriguing, the characters colorful and the atmosphere reeking with the glamour of the early 20th century rich in Europe. Imagine my delight when I first learned that a television adaptation of the novel had been made, starring David Suchet as Poirot. When I finally saw the movie, I found myself both disappointed . . . satisfied with it.

”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” could have truly been a first-class production. But some of the changes in the story stood in the way. One, Guy Andrews’ script got rid of the love triangle between Katherine Grey, Richard Knighton and Derek Kettering. Pity. I rather enjoyed it. Instead, Katherine only enjoyed a romance with Knighton. She barely shared any scenes with Derek, except for one in which she snapped at him for his childish behavior. And speaking of Derek Kettering, he became a petulant and hard drinking man who remained in love with the spoiled and estranged Ruth. He seemed quite a difference from the sardonic man featured in the novel, who had already fallen out of love with his wife long before the story began. Another change that proved to be a major one, involved the character of Mirelle. She remained a Frenchwoman, but one of African descent. And instead of being Derek’s soon-to-be former mistress and a dancer, this cinematic Mirelle turned out to be Rufus Van Aldin’s mistress. As for Lady Tamplin, she and her family also made the journey aboard the Blue Train – which did not happen in the novel. Any other changes? In this version, Katherine Grey revealed to Poirot that Van Aldin had financially ruined her father. Also, someone tried to kill her one hour into the movie.

What did I think of ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN”? I did not mind some of the changes from the novel. For example, Lady Tamplin became more likeable and sexy personality, thanks to Lindsay Duncan’s spirited performance. I found her young husband, Corky (Cubby Evans in the novel) less vacuous and self-absorbed. Mirelle’s personality acquired a welcome change from the character in the novel. Actress Josette Simon portrayed her as a world-weary, yet passionate woman with a great deal of complexities, instead of Christie’s one-dimensional portrait of sex and greed, wrapped in a French accent. I also enjoyed Nicholas Farrell’s quiet, yet charming portrayal of Rufus Van Aldin’s private secretary, Richard Knighton. Jaime Murray did a solid job in portraying Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, the murder victim, whose body was discovered aboard the Blue Train. I must admit that she managed to capture her character’s extroverted, ruthless and somewhat self-absorbed personality, even if her American accent seemed a bit questionable. And thank goodness for the presence of Elliot Gould, whose portrayal of Van Aldin transcended the cliché of the American businessman featured in the novel. Finally, David Suchet continued to give another fine performance as Hercule Poirot, everyone’s favorite Belgian detective – subtle, yet intense as always.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie featured the Blue Train’s departure from Calais during a heavy rainfall. Thanks to director Hettie Macdonald, production designers Jeff Tessler and an uncredited Paul Spriggs, along with cinematographer Alan Almond; this particular scene reeked with atmosphere and mystery. They also did an excellent job in capturing the sunny and exotic glamour of the French Riviera – especially in one scene that featured a house party given by Lady Tamplin at her home, Villa Marguerite. I also liked the fact that the story began in London, paused in Calais and France, and ended in Nice. It did not shift to different locations throughout England and France, as in the novel. More importantly, Poirot revealed the murderer’s identity in front of all the suspects and the police; instead of limiting his audience to two characters.

What did I NOT like about ”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN”? Unfortunately, a good deal. One, I did not care for the change in Katherine Grey’s personality. I have no complaints about Georgina Rylance’s performance. She did a solid job in the role. But screenwriter Guy Andrews transformed the Katherine Grey character from a cool and smart woman that kept her emotions in check to a naïve woman that wore her emotions on her sleeve. It almost seemed to me that Katherine’s character had somewhat been diminished. One change I did not care for was Andrews’ decision to make Mirelle the mistress of Van Aldin, instead of Derek Kettering’s paramour. Nor did I care for his decision to reveal that Van Aldin’s wife was still alive, slightly mad and living in a convent in Nice. I found this plot twist to be very unnecessary. Speaking of Mr. Kettering, his personality went through a major change. In this adaptation, Derek became a drunken, gambling addict with a habit of sniveling over a wife who no longer loved him. Only James D’Arcy’s complex performance made it possible for me to tolerate the character. The movie’s portrayal of Lennox Tamplin seemed like a letdown from Christie’s novel. Instead of the sardonic young woman who had learned to tolerate her mother’s talent for exploitation and exhibition, this version of Lennox became a bubbly and extroverted personality with an atrocious hairstyle for a story set in the 1930s.

The biggest change occurred in the movie’s revelation scene. Although I had expressed approval of Andrews and director Hettie Macdonald’s decision to allow Poirot to reveal the murderer in Nice, I still had some problems with the scene. One, it began with the detective indulging in a ridiculous tirade about how each suspect could have been the murderer. But after Poirot identified the killer, viewers were treated to a ridiculous and theatrical scene in which the latter attempted to use a hostage to evade the police. I did not know whether to laugh or shake my head in disgust. I believe I ended up doing the latter.

”THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN” will never be a favorite Christie adaptation of mine. There were too many changes that I did not care for – especially with some of the characters and the revelation scene. On the other hand, I found other changes – including the revelation scene – to be an improvement from the novel and a welcome relief. I also enjoyed the movie’s atmosphere, setting, photography and David Suchet’s performance as Poirot. It was not the best Christie adaptation, but I found it tolerable.

“HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” (2004) Review

 

“HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” (2004) Review

My knowledge of 19th century author, Anthony Trollope, can be described as rather skimpy. In fact, I have never read any of his works. But the 2004 BBC adaptation of his 1869 novel, ”He Knew He Was Right”, caught my interest and I decided to watch the four-part miniseries. 

”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” told the decline and fall of a wealthy gentleman named Louis Trevelyan (Oliver Dimsdale) and his marriage to the elder daughter of a British Colonial administrator named Sir Marmaduke Rowley (Geoffrey Palmer) during the late 1860s. Louis first met the spirited Emily Rowley (Laura Fraser) during a trip to the fictional Mandarin Islands. Their marriage began on a happy note and managed to produce one son, young Louis. But when Emily’s godfather, the rakish Colonel Osborne (Bill Nighy), began paying consistent visits to her, the house of cards for the Trevelyan marriage began to fall. Doubts about his wife’s fidelity formed clouds in Louis’ mind upon learning about Osborne’s reputation as a ladies’ man. His insistence that Emily put an end to Osborne’s visits, along with her stubborn opposition to his demands and outrage over his lack of trust finally led to a serious break in their marriage. What followed was a minor public over their estrangement, a change of addresses for both husband and wife, Louis’ kidnapping of their son and his final descent into paranoia and madness.

The miniseries also featured several subplots. One centered around the forbidden romance between Emily’s younger sister, Nora (Christina Cole), and a young journalist named Hugh Stansbury (Stephen Campbell Moore), who happened to be Louis’ closest friend. Another featured the efforts of Hugh’s wealthy Aunt Jemima Stansbury (Anna Massey) to pair his younger sister Dorothy (Caroline Martin) to a local vicar in Wells named Reverend Gibson (David Tennant). Unfortunately for Aunt Stansbury, her desires for a romance between Dorothy and Reverend Gibson ended with Dorothy’s rejection of him and his lies about her moral character. Later, Dorothy and Aunt Stansbury found themselves at odds over Dorothy’s friendship and burgeoning romance with the nephew of her old love, Brooke Burgess (Matthew Goode). Gibson found himself in hot water with the socially powerful Aunt Stansbury over his lies about Dorothy. But that was nothing in compare to his being the center of a bitter sibling rivalry between two sisters, Arabella and Camilla French (Fenella Woolgar and Claudie Blakley). One last subplot evolved from Nora Rowley’s rejection of a wealthy aristocrat named Mr. Glascock (Raymond Coulthar). While traveling through Italy, he became acquainted with Caroline Spalding (Anna-Louise Plowman), one of two daughters of an American diplomat; and began a romance with her.

Most of the subplots from ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” proved to be mildly entertaining or interesting. But the one subplot that really caught my attention featured Reverend Gibson and the French sisters. There were times when I could not even describe this story. I found it hilarious in a slightly twisted and surreal manner. Considering the vicar’s sniveling personality, there were times I felt it served him right to find himself trapped in the rivalry between the sweetly manipulative Arabella and the aggressive Camilla. But when the latter proved to be obsessive and slightly unhinged, I actually found myself rooting for Reverend Gibson to be free of her grasp. In some ways, Camilla proved to be just as mentally disturbed as Louis Treveylan.

For me, the best aspect of ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” proved to be the main plot about the Treveylan marriage. I have to give kudos to Andrew Davies for his excellent job in adapting Trollope’s tale. I found the Louis and Emily’s story to be fascinating and well written. When their marriage ended in separation at the end of Episode One, I wondered if Davies had rushed the story. Foolish me. I never realized that the separation would lead toward a slow journey into madness for Louis and one of frustration and resentment for Emily. Her resentment increased tenfold after Louis kidnapped their young son, Little Louis; and upon her discovery that as a woman, she did not have the law on her side on who would be considered as the boy’s legal guardian. For me, the most surprising aspect of ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” was that despite all of the hell Louis forced Emily to endure, I ended up feeling very sorry for him. Due to his own insecurities over Colonel Osborne’s attentions to Emily and her strength of character, Louis ended up enduring a great deal of his own hell.

Another aspect I found rather interesting about ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” was the topic of power abuse that permeated the tale. Many film and literary critics have used the Louis Trevelyan character as an argument that the story’s main theme was the abuse of paternal or male power. I heartily agree with that argument. To a certain extent. After all, Louis’ hang-ups regarding Emily’s relationship with Colonel Osborne seemed to be centered around her unwillingness to blindly obey him or his fear that he may not be enough of a man for her. And Sir Marmaduke’s insistence that Nora dismiss the idea of marrying the penniless Hugh Stanbury for a wealthier gentleman – namely Mr. Glascock. But the miniseries also touched upon examples of matriarchy or female abuse of power – something that most critics or fans hardly ever mention. Jemima Stanbury’s position as the Stanburys’ matriarch and only wealthy family member gave her the belief she had the power to rule over the lives of her family. This especially seemed to be the case in her efforts to control Dorothy’s love life. Camilla French struck me as another female who used her position as Reverend French’s fiancée to abuse it – especially in her aggressive attempts to ensure that he would give in to her desires and demands. And when that failed, she used her anger and threats of violence to ensure that her sister Arabella did not win in their rivalry over the spineless vicar. Some would say that Camilla was merely indulging in masculine behavior. I would not agree. For I believe that both men and women – being human beings – are capable of violence. For me, aggression is a human trait and not associated with one particular gender. In the end, both Sir Marmaduke and Aunt Stanbury relented to the desires of their loved ones. Camilla had no choice but to relent to Arabella’s victory in their race to become Reverend Gibson’s wife, thanks to her mother and uncle’s intervention. As for Louis, he continued to believe he was right about Emily and Colonel Osborne . . . at least right before the bitter end.

Oliver Dimsdale proved to be the right actor to portray the complex and tragic Louis Trevelyan. He could have easily portrayed Louis as an unsympathetic and one-note figure of patriarchy. Instead, Dimsdale skillfully conveyed all of Louis’ faults and insecurities; and at the same time, left me feeling sympathetic toward the character. Dimsdale’s Louis was not a monster, but a flawed man who believed he could control everything and especially everyone in his life. And this trait proved to be his Achilles heel. But despite my sympathies toward him, I could never accept the righteousness of Louis’ behavior. And the main reason proved to be Laura Fraser’s portrayal of the high-spirited and stubborn Emily Rowley Trevelyan. One could say that Emily should have conceded to her husband’s wishes. As the spouse of a pre-20th century male, one would expect her to. I could point out that she did concede to Louis’ wishes – while protesting along the way. And Fraser not only did a marvelous job with Emily’s strong will and stubbornness, but also anger at Louis’ paternalism. Amazingly, she also effectively portrayed Emily’s continuing love for Louis and doubts over the character’s actions with a great deal of plausibility. This last trait was especially apparent in Emily’s conversations with Hugh Stanbury’s sister, Priscilla, in Episode Two. And both Dimsdale and Fraser created a strong and credible screen chemistry, despite their characters’ flaws, mistakes and conflicts.

Another reason I managed to enjoy ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” turned out to be the solid performances by the supporting cast. However, several performances stood out for me. Three came from veteran performers such as Bill Nighy, Anna Massey and Ron Cook. Nighy, ever the chameleon, gave a delicious performance as the mischievous and rakish Colonel Osborne; who proved to be something of a blustering phony in the end. Anna Massey gave a wonderful and entertaining portrayal as the wealthy matriarch of the Stanbury family, Jemima Stanbury. Despite being a tyrannical and no-nonsense woman, Massey’s Aunt Stanbury also proved to be a likeable and vulnerable individual. And Cook did a marvelous job in portraying Mr. Nozzle as more than just a study in one-dimensional seediness. Cook aptly conveyed the private detective’s conflict between his greedy desire for Louis’ business and his sympathy toward Emily’s plight.

The second trio of performances that impressed me came from David Tennant, Fenella Woolgar and Claudie Blakley, who portrayed the Reverend Gibson and the French sisters. Tennant, who was two years away from portraying the 10th Doctor Who, gave a hilarious performance as the avaricious vicar with a spine made from gelatin. Both Woolgar and Blakley were equally funny as the two sisters battling for his affections . . . or at least a marriage proposal. Blakley also seemed a tad frightening, as she delved into Camilla’s aggressive and homicidal determination to prevent Mr. Gibson from returning his “affections” to the more mild-tempered and manipulative Arabella.

The production values for ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” seemed pretty solid. But I found nothing exceptional about it, except for Mike Eley’s photography and Debbie Wiseman’s haunting score, which seemed appropriate for the Trevelyans’ doomed marriage. However, I do have one major problem with Trollope’s tale . . . and Davies’ script. Quite simply, the story suffered from one too many subplots. Many have counted at least five subplots in ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” and they would be correct. At least three of them – Dorothy’s problems with Reverend Gibson, her conflict with Aunt Stanbury over Brooke Burgess, and Reverend Gibson’s problems with the French sisters – having nothing to do with the main storyline. Despite the fact that I found them either interesting or entertaining, I felt as if they belonged in another novel or series. I realize that Trollope had used these subplots as examples of comparisons to the Trevelyan marriage, but I always have this strange sensation that I am watching a completely different series altogether. I believe that Davies should have realized this before writing his script.

Despite my problems with the tale’s numerous subplots, I found ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” to be a first-rate adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel. I must admit that all of the plotlines proved to be interesting. And Tom Vaughn’s direction, along with a first-rate cast led by Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser, ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” proved to be a literary adaptation worth watching.

“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) Book Review

Below is my review of “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”, author George MacDonald Fraser’s seventh novel in theFlashman Papers series: 

“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) Book Review

Set during the Old West of 1849-50 and the mid 1870s, “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” has the distinction of being the first novel in the Flashman Papers series to begin outside of Great Britain. It will not be the last, but it certainly was the first. Penned by George MacDonald Fraser and published in 1982, the novel also happens to be my favorite in the series.

Since this particular novel happened to be an immediate follow-up to Fraser’s third novel, “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!”“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” began where the 1971 novel had ended – on the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana in the early spring of 1849. British Army officer Harry Flashman had just testified at Captain John Charity Spring’s trial, enabling the psychotic sea captain to avoid being convicted for slave trading in U.S. waters. In return, Spring agreed to provide Flashman passage back to England. Unfortunately for both men, Fatehad a different path in mind when they encountered one of Flashman’s old nemesis at a local saloon – a slave trader/planter named Peter Omohundro, whom young Flashy had encountered on a northbound Mississippi River steamboat several months ago. After Spring killed the aggressively suspicious Omohundro during a brutal saloon fight, he and Flashman ended up seeking refuge with another one of Flashy’s past acquaintances from “FLASH FOR FREEDOM!” – the red-haired Cockney-born madam named Susie Wilnick. Flashman’s reunion with Susie proved to be just as sensuous as their last encounter. After a few bouts of sex, Susie asked him to marry. Lacking in any morals, yet providing a great deal of practicality, Flashman accepted her proposal. And being a steel-minded businesswoman, Susie dealt with the insane Captain Spring in the following manner, during supper:

“But by and by he (Spring) said less and less, and that none too clearly; I was just beginning to wonder if the drink had got to him for once when he suddenly gave a great sigh, and a staring yawn, caught at his chair arms as though to rise, and then fell face foremost into the blancmange.

Susie glanced at me, lifting a warning finger. Then she got up, pulled his face out of the mess, and pushed up one eyelid. He was slumped like a sawdust doll, his face purple.

“That’s all right,” says she. “Brutus!” And before my astonished eyes the butler went out, and presently in came two likely big coves in reefer jackets. At a nod from Susie, they hefted Spring out of his chair, and without a word bore him from the room. Susie sauntered back to her place, took a sip of wine, and smiled at my amazement.

“Well,” says she, “we wouldn’t ‘ave wanted ‘im along on our ‘oneymoon, would we?””

With Spring gone, Flashman no longer has a speedy means to reach England. Another chance to leave the Mississippi Valley and prosecution for slave stealing appeared when Susie announced her decision to close down her New Orleans whorehouse and take her retinue of slaves – prostitutes and servants – to San Francisco in California. The departure could not have come sooner for Flashman, as he had discovered during a stopover in St. Louis, Missouri:

“It wasn’t only the plague that worried me, either; St. Louis was the town where a few weeks earlier they’d been posting rewards of a hundred dollars for my apprehension, describing me to a T and warning the citizenry that I had Genteel Manners and spoke with a Foreign Accent, damn their impudence.”

I have been a fan of the Flashman novels for many years. But there are a few of them I would describe as truly epic. In my opinion, one of those epic novels happened to be “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”. Fraser did a superb job in capturing the breath and scope of the American West in both the late 1840s and mid 1870s. His description of Flashman’s wagon train journey from Independence to Santa Fe that included a hair-raising interlude at Bent’s Fort was a masterpiece. I can also say the same for the sequence that featured Flashman’s harrowing escape from the Mimbreno Apaches across the New Mexico desert, featured in the last chapters of Part One.

Fraser wrote this particular saga in two parts. Part One, entitled “The Forty-Niner”, covered Flashman’s experiences in the United States and the Far West between 1849 and 1850. In this section, Flashman’s “marriage” to Susie Wilnick (he already had his wife Elspeth waiting for him back home in England) led to him becoming a wagon train emigrant and de facto captain during the period known as the California Gold Rush; the lover of Cleonie, one of Susie’s slave whores; manger of Susie’s Santa Fe whorehouse; a scalp hunter under the leadership of one John Joel Glanton (known to Flashman as “Gallantin”) in New Mexico’s Del Norte Valley; and eventually the son-in-law of the Mimbreno Apache chief, Mangas Colorado; and husband of the latter’s precious daughter, Sonsee-Array aka Takes Away Cloud Woman. After six months with his bride and her Apache relatives, which included the famous Geronimo, Flashman finally makes his escape and head northeast. While being chased by Apache warriors through the grueling Jornada Del Muerto desert, he is rescued by the famous Western tracker and guide, Kit Carson.

Part Two – called “The Seventy-Sixer” – was set between 1875 and 1876. It centered on Flashman and his wife Elspeth’s visit to the United for the Centennial celebration. The journey not only led to a series of reunions with acquaintances from the American Civil War, but also with those Flashman had met during his first visit to the West. Flashman’s reunion with a Sioux leader named Spotted Tail led directly to one with an old lover out for revenge and his minor participation in the Battle of Little Bighorn with Custer and the Seventh Calvary. Flashman’s visit also led to his acquaintance of a young man who managed to – not quite break his heart – but tweak it a bit.

In my review of “FLASH FOR FREEDOM”, I had complained of Fraser’s uneven portrayal of antebellum United States. I have no such complaints for this novel. Fraser did a much superior job in describing the antebellum United States and especially the West. In fact, I cannot recall finding any evidence of uneven pacing or historical inaccuracies, as I had done in the 1971 novel. What I really enjoyed about this novel was Fraser’s feel for both the novel’s period and landscape. One of his best passages featured his description of Kanzas Landing, Independence, and Westport (now Kansas City) in Missouri during the spring of 1849:

“They tell me that Kansas City nowadays covers the whole section, but in those days the landing and Westport and Independence were separated by woodland and meadow. And I wonder if today’s city contains more people than were crowded along the ten miles from Independence to the river when I first saw it in ’49: there were thousands of them, in tents and lean-tos and houses and log shacks and under the trees and in the few taverns and lodging-places; they were in the stables and sheds and shops and storehouses, a great swarming hive of humanity of every kind you can imagine – well, I remember the Singapore river in the earlies, and it was nothing to Westport-Independence. The whole stretch was jammed with wagons and carts and carriages, churning the spaces between the buildings into a sea of mud after the recent rain, and through it went the mules and oxen and horses, with the steam rising from them and the stench of hides and dung and smoke filling the air – but even that was nothing to the noise.

Every other building seemed to be a forge or a stable or a warehouse, a-clang with hundreds of hammers and the rasp of saws and the crack of axes and the creak of wheels and the thump and scrape of boxes and bales being loaded or unloaded; teamsters snapped their whips with a “Way-hay, whoa!”, foremen bellowed, children shrilled, the voices of thousands of men and women blended with it all in a great eager busy din that echoed among the buildings and floated off to be lost in the surrounding forest.”

Flashman’s first meeting Sonsee-Array – Mangas Colorado’s youngest daughter – struck an interesting note with me. It made me realize how much Flashman’s character had matured in the eight to nine years since his adventures in Afghanistan. In the first novel, 1969’s “FLASHMAN”, the 19 year-old British officer had an encounter with an Afghan dancer named Narameen that led to her being raped by him. Narameen also happened to be the lover of one of his enemies. Eight years later, while in the company of John Joel Glanton and his scalphunters, Flashman met the Apache chief’s daughter. First, he managed to save her from being raped by an Irishman he disliked named Grattan Nugent-Hare. When offered to “take her” himself, Flashman handled the situation with a lot more delicacy than he did with Narameen:

“You must understand the effect of this, of Flashy imposing his winning ways on that fortunate native wench. There she was, a helpless prisoner in the hands of the most abominable ruffians in North America, who had butchered her menfold before her eyes and were about to subject her to repeated rape, possible torture, and certain death. Up jumps this strapping chap with splendid whiskers, who not only kills out of hand the cad who is molesting her, but thereafter treats her kindly, pets her patiently, and absolutely asks permission to squeeze her boobies. She is astonished, nay gratified, and, since she’s a randy little minx at bottom, ready to succumb with pleasure. All thanks to style, as inculcated by Dr. Arnold, though I wouldn’t expect him to claim credit for it.

And mark the sequel. When other of her tribesmen, having got wind of the massacre, attack the scalp-hunters by night, she is alarmed for her protector. If he joins in the scrap – the last thing I’d have done, but she wasn’t to know that – harm may come to him, so being a lass of spirit she ensures his neutrality by clouting him behind the ear with a rock. Then, when her tribesmen have wiped out or captured most of the marauders (Gallantin and a few others alone escaped) she is at pains to preserve her savior from the general vengeance. Had he been a man without style, she’d have been the first to set about him with a red-hot knife.”

I found it ironic that his actions in “FLASHMAN” nearly cost Flashman his life on two separate occasions. Yet, in“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”, his actions ended up saving him and leading him to becoming husband to another, namely Sonsee-Array and son-in-law to Mangas Colorado. One of the novel’s funniest passages featured Flashman’s conversation with the Apache chief. I would include the conversation if I could, but it is rather long and would be better appreciated in its full glory. But Flashman had this to say about him:

“Sonsee-array was beside me, her hand slipping into mine, the sullen faces round us were indifferent rather than hostile, the Yawner (Geronimo) shrugged – and Mangas Colorado gave us a final curt nod and stalked away. Just the same, I couldn’t help thinking that old Morrison hadn’t been such a bad father-in-law.”

Before one starts thinking that Harry Flashman had learned to treat women with more respect by the age of 27, consider his earlier behavior toward Cleonie – one of Susie Wilnick’s mulatto prostitutes. The two had begun an affair during the wagon train journey along the Santa Fe Trail and continued it in Santa Fe. Cleonie, who had the bad luck (and stupidity) to fall in love with Flashy; proposed that they abandon Susie and head for El Paso, Texas. He agreed. Being the complete black-hearted villain, Flashman sold Cleonie to a priest acting as an agent for a Navaho chieftain on the night of their departure for two thousand dollars:

“I picked up my gear from the summer-house when he’d gone, and went quickly down through the crowded Plaza to the livery stable, where I slung my few traps over the mule, rode out on the Albuquerque trail. I won’t say I didn’t regret Cleonie’s absence – clever lass, fine mount, charming conversationalist, but too saucy by half, and she’d never have earned us two thousand dollars between Santa Fe and El Paso, not in a month of Sundays.”

It took Cleonie nearly twenty-seven years to seek revenge for his betrayal in Part Two of the novel.

The novel’s second half featured some interesting aspects in the story. One of the novel’s funnier moments dealt with Flashman’s reunions with Army officers he had met during the American Civil War – including some humorous descriptions of William Sherman and Philip Sheridan:

“So now you see Flashy in his splendid prime at fifty-three, distinguished foreign visitor, old comrade and respected military man, with just a touch of grey in the whiskers but no belly to speak of, straight as a lance and a picture of cavalier gallantry as I stoop to salute the blushing cheek of the new Mrs. Sheridan at the wedding reception in her father’s garden. Little Phil, grinning all over and still looking as though he’d fallen in the river and let his uniform dry on him, led me off to talk to Sherman, whom I’d known for a competent savage, and the buffoon Pope, whose career had consisted of losing battles and claiming he’d won.”

But nothing quite beat Flashman’s reunion with the infamous George Armstrong Custer. Fraser best described the American Army officer’s over-the-top personality with the Flashmans’ visit to a New York theater with Custer and his family:

“So we five dined frequently, and visited the theater, of which Custer was a great patron; he was a friend of Barrett the actor, who was butchering Shakespeare at Booth’s, and would sit with his eyes glued to the stage muttering “Friends, Romans, countrymen” under his breath.

That should have made me leery; I’m all for a decent play myself, but when you see someone transported from reality by them, watch out. I shan’t easily forget the night we saw some sentimental abomination about a soldier going off to the wars; when the moment came when his wife buckled on his sword for him, I heard sniffing and supposed it was Libby or Elspeth piping her eye. Then the sniff became a baritone groan, and when I looked, so help me it was Custer himself, with his hand to his brow, bedewing his britches with manly tears.”

In fact, during the Flashmans’ first dinner with the Custers, the emotional George Armstrong got on Flashy’s nerves with his constant complaints about his superiors in Washington and warbling about the Englishman’s own military service. Flashman responded by having a little sport with Custer’s ego in this hilarious scene at a New York restaurant:

“”Luck of the service,” says I, and because I was bored with his croaking I added: “Anyway, I’ve never been a general, and I’ve only one American Medal of Honor, you know.”

This was Flashy at his most artistic, you’ll agree, when I tell you that I knew perfectly well that Custer had no Medal of Honour, but his brother Tom had two. I guessed nothing would gall him more than having to correct my apparent mistake, which he did, stiffly, while Tom studied the cutlery and I was all apologies, feigning embarrassment.”

Although Part Two seemed to lack the epic scope of Part One, it did feature some memorable passages. In Part One, Flashman met several Sioux warriors on the journey west, through trail guide Dick Wootton. One of them was a future leader named Spotted Tail. Part Two featured a series of events that began with Flashman’s reunion with the Sioux leader Spotted Tail in Chicago, Illinois and one of his braves, Standing Bear. Thanks to that particular reunion, our fearful hero attracted the attention of a businesswoman named Mrs. Arthur B. Candy. She wanted to use Flashman’s fame in a land scheme in the Dakota Territories and invited to join her in an excursion to the area. Flashman and Mrs. Candy’s journey to the Dakota Territory was not very interesting, despite accompanying George Custer and the Seventh Calvary. But it did feature a colorful description of cavalry troopers boarding a Powder River steamboat in order to continue their journey to the Greasy Grass country:

“It was about ten days out of Bismarck that we came to the Powder mouth, where a great military camp was taking shape. With the arrival of Terry’s advance guard, and Gibbon only a few days’ march away, there was tremendous work and bustle; the Far West was back and forth ferrying troops and stores and equipment; her steerage was a bedlam of men and gear, while our deck was invaded by all manner of staff-wallopers in search of comfort; Terry held his meetings in the saloon; messengers went galloping pell-mell along the banks; a forest of tents and lean-tos sprang up in the meadows; the woods rang and hummed with the noise of men and horses, rumours of Indian movement far to the south were discussed and as quickly discounted; no one knew what the blazes was happening – indeed, it was like the beginning of any campaign I’d ever seen.”

More importantly, Flashman discovered that he had become a target of revenge. Mrs. Candy turned out to be none other than Cleonie, the former lover he had sold to the Navaho. Through her, he ended up becoming a captive of the Sioux on the eve of the Little Bighorn Battle at Greasy Grass. How Fraser’s “intrepid” hero ended up escaping the Sioux and participating in the infamous battle featured an interesting little scene involving him and a real life Sioux woman named Walking Blanket Woman:

“I looked at her now, giving her the full benefit, the sweet little soul – and like all the rest, she succumbed. As I say, it’s true, and here I am, and I can’t explain it – perhaps it’s the whiskers, or the six feet two and broad shoulders, or just my style. But she looked at me, and her lids lowered, and she glanced across the river where the troopers were riding down the coulee, and then back at me – this girl whose brother had been killed by my people only a few days back. I can’t describe the look in her eyes – frowning, reluctant hesitant, almost resigned; she couldn’t help herself, you see, the dear child. Then she sighed, lifted the knife – and cut the thongs securing my hands to the yoke.

“Go on, then,” says she. “You poor old man.”

Well, I couldn’t reply with my mouth full of gag, and by the time I’d torn it out she had gone, running off to the right with her hatchet and knife, God bless her.”

Although Flashman managed to survive the battle, he ended up as a prisoner of one Frank Grouard, who was known to the Sioux as Standing Bear. According to Fraser’s novel, Grouard turned out to be Harry and Cleonie’s son, who has spent most of his years being raised by the Navaho and later, the Sioux. What Fraser did was take the historical figure of Frank Grouard – the son of a Tahitian woman and an American missionary – and incorporated him into Flashy and Cleonie’s illegitimate son. However, Cleonie’s revenge plot fell to pieces, due to her son. Due to his dislike of her (and I do not blame him), Frank decided to spare his black-hearted father. And both father and son not only discovered that they shared similar traits, they also took a shining to each other.“FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” featured that rare occasion in which Flashy had ever expressed any kind of emotion or regard for one of his offspring. When Frank decided to reject his offer to be officially recognized as his son, the two parted in one of the most touching scenes written by Fraser:

“”Frank!” I roared.

He checked at the crest and looked back. I felt such a desolation, then, but I couldn’t move after him, or say what I wanted to say, with all the sudden pain and regret for lost years, and what had come of them. I called up to him.

“I’m sorry, son, about it all.”

“Well, I’m not!” he called back, and laughed, and suddenly lifted his arms wide, either side. “Look, Papa!” He laughed again, and then he had ridden over the skyline and was gone.”

Although the novel featured a vast array of historical figures that included Dick Wootton, Spotted Tail John Joel Glanton, Mangas Colorado, Geromino, Kit Carson, Ulysses S. Grant, Frank Grouard, Crazy Horse and most memorably, George Armstrong Custer; Fraser did not fail his readers in providing some interesting fictional characters. Since the novel had picked up where “FLASHY FOR FREEDOM!” left off, Fraser allowed his readers to briefly reacquaint themselves with one of his best creations, the infamous Captain John Charity Springs. Another veteran from “FLASHY FOR FREEDOM!” turned out to be the Cockney-born New Orleans madam, Susie Wilnick, who had a larger role in this novel as Flash Harry’s 3rd or 4th wife (I lost count). I adored Susie. She was a sentimental, sensual and hard-headed businesswoman. She knew Harry for the rogue he truly was, but did not care. Even when she suspected him of sleeping around her stable of whores, she managed to pay him back by sleeping with the head of their teamsters – an Irish-born former Army officer named Grattan Nugent-Hare. Nugent-Hare turned out to be another interesting character created by Fraser. Although soft-spoken and practical, he turned out to be another rogue (who had left Santa Fe with some of Susie’s money) – only he lacked Harry’s sense of style. Flashman’s second bride in the novel turned out to be the Apache princess, Sonsee-Array aka Takes Away Clouds Woman – Mangas Colorado fictional daughter. She was an interesting, yet haughty and demanding thing who fully appreciated Harry’s sexual prowess. The real Mrs. Harry Flashman (namely Elspeth) had a major role in the novel’s second half. And she was just as charming, sexy and simple-minded as ever – even in her early fifties. There are times when I suspect that Elspeth might not be as stupid as she appears to be. I really enjoyed reading Harry’s suspicions that she may have had a tumble in the grass with Spotted Tail during a conference between the U.S. government and the Sioux and Cheyenne nations.

One last fictional character that played a major role in “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” was Cleonie Grouard, one of Susie’s prostitute slaves. She first caught Flashman’s attention during the wagon journey from Independence to Santa Fe. Once their affair had caught hold, Flashman ignored Susie’s other whores and focused his attention upon her, impressed by her style and looks. It did not take Cleonie very long to put down Flashy’s one time tumble with another slave named Aphrodite:

“”We all know – that is, if Aphrodite is to be believed.” She gave me an inquiring look, still with that tiny smile. “I, myself, would have thought she was rather . . . black . . . and heavy, for Master’s taste. But some men prefer it, I know.” She gave a little shrug. “Others . . .” She left it there, waiting.”

While their affair continued in Santa Fe, Cleonie also exposed Flashman’s lack of any real love for Susie:

“You do not love Miz Susie. And soon you will be leaving her, will you not?”

I found it interesting that Cleonie was shrewd and clever enough to spot Flashman’s true feelings regarding the other prostitutes he had slept with and Susie . . . and yet, she failed to sense his lack of any love toward her. Had love on her part truly blinded her? Perhaps. I also suspect that Cleonie’s own ego and pride made it difficult for her to even consider that Flashy felt the same about her, as he did about Susie, Aphrodite or any of the other whores in Susie’s stable. I am not saying that she deserved the fate that Flashman had dished out to her – being sold to the Navahos and enduring five years of captivity. She did not. And Flashman certainly deserved the fright that he had endured from of her vengeance, some 27 years later. But . . . I have never liked Cleonie. Not really. My dislike has nothing to do with some belief that she was a poorly created character. On the contrary. I believe that Fraser did an exceptional job in creating her character. But after reading “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” for the umpteenth time, I cannot help but feel that she was one egotistical bitch.

Do I have any quibbles about “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”? Well . . . yes. Although well written and with a strong finish, the novel’s second half is not as strong or epic as the first half. Flashman’s adventures at Bent’s Fort in the novel’s first half led to the fort’s destruction and his meeting with a group of mountain men:

“I dug in my finger-nails and pulled, and pulled, until I could no more. I rested my face on one side, and above the scrubby grass in my line of sight there were the legs of a pony, and I hardly had time to think, oh, dear Jesus, the Indians . . . when a hand took me by the shoulder and rolled me over, and I was blinking up into a monstrously-bearded face under a fur cap, and I pawed feebly at a fringed buckskin shirt that was slick with wear, and then the beard split into a huge grin of white teeth, and a voice said:

“Waal, ole hoss, what fettle? How your symptoms segashooatin’? Say, ifn thar wuz jest a spoonful o’ gravy to go with ye, I rackon yore baked just ’bout good enough to eat!””

And here is where Fraser nearly grounded the novel to a halt by devoting a page-and-a-half to the mountain men’s dialect, which the author described as “plug-a-plew”. I would give more samples of their dialect, but frankly Fraser had provided too much of it, by allowing the mountain men to reminisce about Bent’s Fort in a conversation that nearly lasted two pages. Honestly, I really could have done without it. Also, was it really necessary to use a historical figure like Frank Grouard as the love child of Flashman and Cleonie – two fictional characters? I realize that Fraser must have found his character fascinating, but . . . he could have easily created another fictional character to serve as their son. I also had a problem with the route Fraser had chosen for Flashman and Susie to take to California. Early in the novel, Susie made it clear that she planned to relocate her establishment to Sacramento, California:

”It sounded reasonable, I said, but a bit wild to establish a place like hers, and she chuckled confidently.

“I’m goin’ ready-made, don’t you fret. I’ve got a place marked down in Sacramento, through an agent, an’ I’m movin’ the whole kit caboodle up the river to West next Monday – furnishin’s, crockery, my cellar an’ silver . . . an’ the livestock, which is the main thing.””

And how did Susie plan to move her establishment from New Orleans to Sacramento?

“Why, up to Westport an’ across by carriage to – where is it? – Santa Fe, an’ then to San Diego.”

All I can ask is . . . why? Why did Fraser have Flashman and Susie attempt that convoluted trail from New Orleans to Sacramento? They could have easily traveled by steamboat from New Orleans to the Red River and later, to Texas. From Texas, they could have traveled to Santa Fe in New Mexico. And from Santa Fe, they could have traveled along the Gila River Trail to San Diego, California. All they had to do was travel up the coast to San Francisco and later, Sacramento. Or . . . . a less convoluted route could have taken them upriver to St. Louis, Missouri. From there, they could have taken another steamboat across Missouri River to Westport. From there, all they had to do was following the Oregon Trail to Fort Hall in present-day Idaho and take the California Trail all the way to Sutter’s Fort. From there, they would have an easy journey from Sutter’s Fort to Sacramento. Instead, Fraser laid out a more convoluted route. And I suspect that he did so in order for Flashman to be captured by the Mimbreno Apaches and spend six months with them.

I could easily consider “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” as my favorite novel in the Flashman Papers series, due to its setting. After all, I have always been a big aficionado of the history of the American West. And I will admit that the novel’s setting is one of the reasons why I have enjoyed it so much. The novel does have its share of small problems. I believe that Fraser got carried away in his description of mountain men following the scene that featured the destruction of Bent’s Fort. If I must be honest, I believe that the author went a bit too far in using a historical figure like Frank Grouard as the son of Flashman and Cleonie – two fictional characters. I thought it was unnecessary. Susie’s planned route from New Orleans to Sacramento, via Santa Fe and San Diego, seemed convoluted. And the second half is not as interesting as the first half (a common flaw in many Flashman novels). But “FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” is a delicious and well-written saga filled with fascinating historical figures like Mangas Colorado and George Armstrong Custer; as well as interesting and well-written fictional characters such as Susie Wilnick, Grattan Nugent-Hare and Cleonie Grouard. The novel also offered a well-documented look at the United States – especially the American West – before and after the Civil War. Quite frankly, I consider it to be one of George MacDonald Fraser’s finest works.

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

Below is a review I had written about ”THE LAST AIRBENDER”. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the movie starred Noah Ringer and Dev Patel: 

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

Director M. Night Shyamalan decided to explore the world of fantasy-adventure by filming an adaptation of an animated television series called ”AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER”. This movie is a fantasy-adventure tale set in a fictional, Asian-influenced world with Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation.

”THE LAST AIRBENDER” told the story of a young monk and the only surviving airbender (one with the psi ability to manipulate air) named Aang, who is believed by others to be the future Avatar – one who can manipulate all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. With his two new friends from the Southern Water Tribe, Aang seeks to learn to manipulate three other elements – water, earth and fire. In this movie, he journeys with his friends Katara (a waterbender) and her brother Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe, where he can learn how to master the waterbending skill from a master. Tracking Aang, Katara and Sokka is Prince Zuko, the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation; who has been exiled by his evil father, Fire Lord Ozai and sent to capture the future Avatar. With the Avatar’s capture, Zuko’s honor and right to the throne will be restored.

I would have never bothered to see this movie. But an office colleague of mine had really enjoyed the movie and recommended that I go see it. Needless to say, I do not regret following her advice. Mind you, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER”was not perfect. The movie’s first five to ten minutes failed to kickstart my interest. It bored me so much that I found myself on the verge of falling asleep. Most of the cast members gave performances that ranged from mediocrity to sheer boredom. And a good deal of the movie’s dialogue seemed extremely cheesy to me – the kind of dialogue one would find in the ”STAR WARS” and the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” franchises.

However, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” definitely had its virtues. I was impressed by the performances of the two leads, Noah Ringer and Dev Patel, who portrayed Aang and Zuko respectively. These two literally kept this movie together. It also helped that both had genuine martial arts experience. I was also impressed by Shaun Toub, who portrayed Zuko’s wise uncle, Iroh; Aasif Mandvi, who played the Fire Nation’s cold-blooded military commander, Zhao; and Cliff Curtis, who portrayed the ruthless leader of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai. Andrew Lesnie’s photography, Philip Messina’s production designs and the art directions supervised by Richard L. Johnson were very impressive, if not mind blowing. However, I did find Judianna Makovsky’s costume designs to be very beautiful and memorable.

From what I understand, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” was not exactly a hit. It had failed to fully earn back the money spent on its production. Well . . . what can I say? Regardless of whether it was a hit or not, I found it an entertaining movie to watch and look forward to viewing it again on DVD.

“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

“THE MUMMY” (1999) Review

As a rule, I dislike horror movies or thrillers very much. Not only do I dislike today’s slasher films, I am NOT a fan of the old horror classics that feature actors like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff. In other words, the slasher films disgust me and the old horror classics tend to creep me out. 

One of those old horror classics happened to be the 1932 movie, ”THE MUMMY”, starring Karloff. It told the story of an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep that became a mummy and ended up terrorizing Cairo. Seventy-six years later, director Stephen Sommers remade the old classic into a half-horror/half-adventure tale in the style of Indiana Jones about how members of a treasure-seeking expedition in 1920s Egypt, revived Imhotep, who wrecked havoc upon the expedition camp and Cairo. I had been prepared to ignore this remake, until a relative informed me that this version had been filmed in the style of an Indiana Jones movie. Being a fan of the Lucas/Spielberg movies, I lowered my guard and saw the movie.

Looking back at my decision, eleven years later, I am glad that I had seen ”THE MUMMY”. My relative had been right. The movie felt more like an action-adventure film, with a touch of horror. Well, more than a touch. After all, this was a tale about an Egyptian mummy that came back to life. But I loved every minute of the film. Well . . . almost. But I believe that it was a perfect blend of action, the supernatural, adventure, comedy and romance. My two favorite sequences featured the Medjai (descendants of Pharaoh Seti I’s palace guards) attacking the Nile River steamboat conveying the heroes from Cairo to Hamunaptra, site of the treasure they sought and Imohtep’s remains; and Imohtep’s reign of terror in Cairo, as he sought the three Americans and the Egyptologist who possessed the canopic jars that held the mummy’s preserved organs. I especially enjoyed this last sequence, because I feel that it managed to evoke the surreal and mysterious atmosphere of the old 30s horror films more than any other sequence in the movie.

Another one of the movie’s major virtues turned out to be its cast. Brendan Fraser did a great job in portraying the aggressive soldier-of-fortune, Rick O’Connell. He must have been at least 30 years old around the time he shot ”THE MUMMY”. And I must say that he also managed to project a strong and masculine screen presence, with a touch of sly humor. Creating screen chemistry with Fraser was Rachel Weisz, who portrayed the inexperienced yet enthusiastic archeologist, Dr. Evelyn Carnahan. I really enjoyed how she injected a mixture of charm and spirit into the very ladylike Evelyn. And John Hannah rounded out the golden trio as Jonathan Carnahan, Evelyn’s humorous yet slightly decadent older brother. Hannah was very funny as Evelyn’s self-serving brother, who seemed more interested in making a quick buck, instead of doing hard work.

Kevin J. O’Connor, a favorite of Sommers, gave a sly and hilarious performance as the Hungarian born Beni Gabor, Rick’s amoral former Foreign Legion comrade that becomes Imohtep’s willing minion. O’Connor was especially hilarious in a scene that featured Beni’s attempts to save himself from Imohtep’s wrath by invoking God’s help in different languages. Actor Oded Fehr provided a great deal of dash and intensity as Ardeth Bay, the leader of Medjai. Actors Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins provided plenty of their own comic relief as the three American adventurers seeking treasure from Hamunaptra. Jonathan Hyde provided a stable contrast to their lunacy as the Egyptian archeologist who serves as their expedition’s Egyptology specialist. Patricia Velásquez gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Anck-Su-Namun, the ancient Egyptian courtesan that happened to be the love of Imohtep’s life. Speaking of Imohtep, Arnold Vosloo literally made a name for himself as the imposing and ruthless high priest and future mummy, who becomes obsessed with reuniting with his love through any means possible.

Despite its vast array of virtues, ”THE MUMMY” had its share of flaws. One, some of the humor and so-called wit struck me as rather silly and sophomoric. I also found it annoying that the Rick O’Connell character seemed inclined to constantly use a gun for every situation – especially when they worked fruitlessly against supernatural beings like mummies. Costume designer John Bloomfield did a piss poor job with Rachel Weisz’s costumes. I realize that Westerners in the far reaches of the British Empire tend to dress more conservatively than their fellow citizens in Great Britain. But that was no excuse for why Evelyn wore an outfit and hairstyle dated a decade older than the movie’s 1920s setting:

However, my biggest problem with the movie happened to be the final showdown between the heroes and Imohtep inside the temple at Hamunaptra. How can I put this? Director Stephen Sommers added new meaning to the phrase ”over-the-top”. Not only did the action and special effects struck me as excessive, but it almost seemed to go on with no end in sight.

Despite my misgivings of ”THE MUMMY”, I still enjoyed the movie very much. It is a fun movie filled with memorable characters, humor, suspense and some genuine fright. For me, it turned out to be one of the better summer blockbusters of the late 1990s.